Do you make good coffee?

In August of 1863, Union Army Sgt. Edwin Lybarger was on provost guard in Memphis, Tennessee with his regiment, the 43rd Ohio Volunteer Infantry. He advertised in the newspaper for a correspondent of the Fair Sex for “agreeable, interesting and useful correspondence.” His diary gives some indication that he did it on a dare with his friend, Co. K Captain John Rhodes.

Northern ladies seeking correspondence with Union soldiersEdwin received a reply from a young lady signing herself “Fannie Jerome.” After they had exchanged several letters, “Fannie” revealed her real name to be Lou Riggen. He confessed his real name, and they continued to correspond for the duration of the war. She seems to have resisted his appeals to send him her “likeness” (photograph).

In 1864, he wrote to Lou to learn more details about her accomplishments, abilities, and sensibilities:

Do you like music?
Play on the piano?
Can you bake bread?
Can you bake mince pies?
Make good coffee?
Keep house?
Can you eat your share of a dinner?
Do you like History, Poetry, or Novels best?
What church to you belong to?

On Sept. 29, 1864, Lou Riggen answered his letter:

Keep house? I once kept house for six months to the edification of the whole family except Lou Riggen. My! what an endless task of intricate labor. Brooms, carpets, beds, cobwebs, dinners, suppers, breakfasts, with all their attendant auxiliaries of good butter, sweet milk, done bread & not burnt either. ‘To be or not to be’ good was always the dread question until dinner stood in all its dread array on the table. Sometimes it was and sometimes it wasn’t.

Edwin and Lou corresponded for the rest of the war. Their plan to meet on his way home in the summer of 1865 was not accomplished. He continued to correspond with Lou after returning to Ohio and, apparently reluctant to end their correspondence, finally told her had married another girl. Her response, her last letter, eloquently expresses her dismay that he had ignored her request to return her letters to her.

The letters written to Union soldier Edwin Lybarger from 1862-1866 by Lou Riggen and other women, are published, with historical social commentary:

WANTED–CORRESPONDENCE:
Letters to a Union Soldier (Swallow Press, 2009).

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One thought on “Do you make good coffee?

  1. This is great — the questions and the reply. I like the question “Can you eat your share of a dinner?” !!! And her response, with the frank description of ‘keeping house’ drudgery….

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